Desperate and alone, Saudi sisters risk everything

  It was September 6, 2018. The two Saudi sisters were on a family vacation in Colombo, Sri Lanka. For weeks, they had helped their mother organize the trip, feigning

excitement at the possibility of two weeks away from Riyadh, but knowing that if all went to plan, they’d never go back.

  Failure was not an option. Every step of their escape from Saudi Arabia carried the threat of severe punishment or death.

  ”We knew the first time, if it’s not perfect, it will be the last time,” Reem says.

  CNN has changed the sisters’ names and is not showing their faces, at their request for their safety.

  The sisters say years of strict Islamic teaching and physical abuse at home had convinced them that they had no future in a socie

ty that places women under the enforced guardianship of men, and limits their aspirations.

  ”It’s slavery, because whatever the woman will do it’s the business of the male,” Rawan says.

  That’s why they say they renounced Islam.

  And that’s why aged 18 and 20, they stole back their own passports, hid their abayas under the b

edcovers, snuck out of their holiday home and boarded a flight from Colombo to Melbourne, via Hong Kong.

  The Hong Kong stopover was supposed to take less than two hours.

  Two hours has turned into five months.

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Leaving Saudi Arabia is not a simple undertaking for women

  who rebel against the system. Permission is needed from a male guardian for many basic activities, including international travel.

  Reem and Rawan say they had been planning their escape in secret for two years. They didn’t dare discuss it in case they were

overheard, so, instead, they swapped WhatsApp messages, even while alone at night in their shared room.

  Before they fled, the Sri Lanka vacation was just like any other. They wore their niqabs

to the beach and sat away from the surf while their brothers swam and joked. They cooked the meals, and

spent most of their days inside. It was humid. Their niqabs stuck to their skin and made it hard to see.

  ”We travel to move from a box to another box. From home to hotel, nothing will change,” Rawan says. “They will go o

ut, they will live freely, the men, of course we will sit away, watching them doing what they want.”

Their five-year-old sister played in the sand, but their 12-year-old sister, like them,

didn’t. She too was learning that it’s OK to be a girl in Saudi Arabia — until you grow up.

During the trip, Rawan turned 18. The timing was no accident. The vacation was planned with gentle persuasion to co

incide with a birthday that, unbeknown to their mother, allowed Rawan to apply for an Australian tourist visa.

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Geovanis, who married a Russian woman, obtained a

  Russian passport in 2014. He was last seen by family members in the US in early 2017 after the death of his mother.

  He is not believed to have returned to the US since then, and his decision to remain in M

oscow means US congressional investigators can’t easily find out what he knows.

  In 2017 Geovanis was reemployed by Lebow to set up the Russian arm of another venture, Somerset Coal Inter

national, an energy technology company which claims to “clean” coal by washing it at high pressure.

  Among those approached by Geovanis for investment was Deripaska, the billionaire m

etals and mining magnate, for whom Geovanis worked in the mid-2000s, according to a person fa

miliar with Somerset Coal’s business plan, speaking on condition of anonymity.

  Deripaska is so closely aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the US sanctioned

him and his companies in order to punish the Russian government for its activities around the 2016

election. The Trump administration lifted sanctions on three of those companies last month.

  A spokesperson for Deripaska did not return CNN’s requests for comment.

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Here, we come back to the new group of independent

support a modern, progressive, global Britain that is very much a part of modern Europe. Cur

rently, both main say that they will deliver Brexit — albeit different versions of it. A new group in Parliament, free to vote and speak as they li

ke, can now make the case for a softer Brexit, or even a second vote, and do so in ways that could damage both the gove

rnment and the opposition.
But will they? That’s a crucial question. If the movement swells, it could create the mome

ntum for a second referendum and push one party or another (probably the Labour Party) to formally back such a vo

te. It could terrify Conservative Brexiteers into backing May on her deal. It could completely break the par

liamentary arithmetic and cause the UK to stumble into a no deal. It could force a general election in which all 11 los

e their seats. It’s very hard to tell.
But the main takeaway from this week is that these 11 MPs were so frustrated by t

heir own parties — for more reasons that just Brexit — that they needed to do something. And that it was now or never. T

hey were left with no good options because, right now, politics in the UK is spiraling out of control.

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hinese Vice Premier Liu He will visit the US on Thursday and

Friday to continue high-level trade negotiations. His new title as Chinese President Xi Jinpi

ng’s special envoy indicates the importance and authoritativeness of the talks. As pre

paration for the event, consultations at vice-ministerial-level between China and the US were recovered on Tuesday.

The world’s stock markets surged Monday due to the optimistic prospects on the deals that Beijin

g and Washington are expected to make. US President Donald Trump praised “big progress” in the

trade deal on Twitter. His words further stoked the stock markets of the US, which reached the highest in two m

onths and so increased pressure on the Trump administration to close the deal with China.

Analysts believe that if the two countries couldn’t come to an agreement, and as a result the US imposes more tariffs on Chinese prod

ucts while China responds with fiercer countermeasures, it would be a catastrophic strike to global stock markets.

In terms of avoiding such blows, the Trump administration is probably the most pres

sured. Thus in general, by the end of the trade negotiations, China and the US have become more psychologically equal.

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Amid the easing ties between North and South Korea, as

as well as between Pyongyang and other stakeholders on the Korean Peninsula, if Japan maintains

its conservative strategy for North Korea, its overall Northeast Asia diplomacy will be affected.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would find it hard to shore up d

omestic support through vibrant diplomacy. Tokyo can take advantage of the positive si

gnals the next Trump-Kim summit generates to win the opportunity to boost its ties with North Korea.

If Washington-Pyongyang ties are significantly enhanced, it will send a conciliatory messag

e to Tokyo. Under the US-Japan-South Korea alliance and under the framework of US-Japan m

ilitary cooperation, if North Korea is still hostile toward Japan, it may find it hard to get a multilateral diplomatic fo

othold in East Asia. In fact, Pyongyang hopes to talk to Tokyo. North Korea’s geopolitics depends on support from tra

ditionally friendly states such as China and Russia. Meanwhile, it also desires to enhance relations with South Korea and Ja

pan, so as to gain maximum advantage in multilateral geopolitics and security in East Asian and Asia-Pacific regions.

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The last time Japanese leaders visited Pyongyang was

during the administration of then prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. As then deputy chief cabinet secretary, Abe was also

part of the visiting delegation. Currently, the domestic politics in Japan is stable. Abe is set to remain in office u

ntil 2021. Abe’s diplomacy with Russia has been criticized at home as fawning toward Moscow. Abe would not risk visiting North Korea if Pyongyang does n

ot make obvious concessions. Japan’s strategic changes toward North Korea should come about gradually.

However, Abe and Kim may meet in a third state, which is friendly with both countries, such as Mon

golia. Their diplomats, special envoys may meet first, laying the ground for both leaders’ face-t

o-face talks. However, a meeting between Abe and Kim may unlikely happen in 2019.

In January, Thubten Gyatso from Moding village in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Southwest China’s Sichuan Pr

ovince, went to Hainan Province for the first time in his life, where he attended an awards ceremony for rural teachers.

Together with 100 other teachers from China’s rural areas and 20 head

masters of rural schools, Thubten Gyatso received an award for what he has done for stud

ents from Moding village, located in a mountainous area 2,600 meters above sea level between Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.

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ntal programs and inaugurated several large-scale infrast

projects, including highway, railway, airport and power stations. However, in the face of local protests, the effectiveness of Modi’s economic package, delivered just a few months before the

election, seemed very suspicious. Interestingly, because of the tremendous opposition against the Bill and the frustrating situation on the g

round, BJP’s top local politician who was defending the bill changed his tune almost as soon as Modi left.

Clearly, Modi’s twin election trick, which comprised both nationalistic and developmental ele

ments, was clearly at work during his visit to disputed South Tibet. However, sacrificing the pa

instakingly earned mutual trust and progress in Sino-Indian relations for the sake of ephemeral political benefits seems unwise.

Even though India and China have so far held 21 rounds of talks to resolve the border dispute, and Modi and President Xi have met at least four times in 2018 to bring b

ilateral ties back on a stable footing, the border issue remains the single-most sensitive topic between the two countries. While

the dispute between China and India remains too large to be resolved altogether, both sides would better carefully manage it.

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Philippines advised to treat Chinese firms fairlyortedly interes

Two Chinese companies are reportedly interested in buying the Philippines’ largest shipyard, once an important US naval base in the Pacific region. Some Phi

lippine politicians have expressed concern over a possible Chinese takeover, saying it will be a very significant national security issue.

An unexpected dilemma is brewing in the Philippines. Since the start of the presidency of Rodrigo Dutert

e, a marked warming of bilateral ties has stoked Chinese firms’ enthusiasm for investing in the Southeast Asian country. In 2018,

China’s outbound investment in the Philippines rose by more than 8,000 percent from a year earlier.

With the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China hopes to shore up economic cooperation and let count

ries and regions along the routes share the dividends of China’s growth. Most countries don’t want to miss the o

pportunity, the Philippines being no exception. If the Philippine government bans Chinese companies from buying the s

hipyard from its current South Korean owner, it will hit Chinese people’s enthusiasm for investing in the country.

However, the explosive growth of investment has triggered concern over China’s increasing presence in the Pacific r

egion. The mass migration of Chinese to Southeast Asia has a long history, and anti-Chinese sentiment has been floating in

those countries. An increased Chinese presence will perhaps intensify anti-Chinese sentiment and complicate the issue.

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ooperation will bring benefits to the two countries while

conflicts will injure both sides, he added.Xi called China-US ties one of the world’s most important

bilateral relationships, and the two countries have wide common interests a

nd shoulder important responsibilities in safeguarding world peace and promoting global prosperity.

Maintaining the healthy and stable development of the China-US relationship is in line with the fundamen

tal interests of the people of both countries, and it is also the common wish of the international community, Xi said.

Xi mentioned his latest meeting with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders

Summit in Argentina in December, saying that the two leaders reached important consensuses.

The two countries should promote building stable, cooperative and coordinative Chi

na-US relations, Xi said. The two sides should enhance communication, focus on cooperation a

nd handle disputes to promote economic and trade cooperation, Xi added.

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